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Tackling diabetes as a couple

Bruce and Marlaine Henderson are pleased with their health strides.

Husband, wife make healthy lifestyle changes to fight their type 2 disease

Editor’s Note: This article was published in the News Leader’s Diabetes Awareness Issue in November 2017. It has been slightly adapted for Health Matters.

Many couples who have been married for a while develop a marvelous synchronization. It’s more than knowing each other’s schedules and preferences — it’s a caring behavior that grows from creating a life together. They finish each other’s sentences, have the same hopes for the future, and support each other in their work and life and raising children.

Bruce and Marlaine Henderson of Waynesboro are typical of such a couple — working together to build a happy life and raise their sons. What is not typical about Bruce and Marlaine is that both are type 2 diabetics. And what is incredibly atypical about Bruce and Marlaine is how they have worked together to control the disease and live a healthy life.

“We were both diabetic, and knew we were diabetic, but I don’t think we understood that diabetes is a serious thing. We didn’t understand the effects until they hit us,” says Marlaine.

What hit them were serious complications from diabetes. Bruce was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, an eye disease caused by damage to the blood vessels in the retina. It’s a complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness. Marlaine had a wound on her foot that wouldn’t heal. Foot ulcers are another complication of diabetes.

Bruce asked for a referral to an endocrinologist and received an appointment with Jessicah Collins, MD, a physician with the Augusta Health Diabetes and Endocrinology Clinic. “I knew if I wanted to see at all, I needed to get my diabetes under control. I knew I would need some guidance to do that.”

After his first visit, since Marlaine was having trouble with her foot wound, Bruce suggested she see Dr. Collins, too. She did, and something clicked. They decided they would get healthy like they had done everything else — together.

Lifestyle change

That meant, in addition to regular visits with Dr. Collins and following her advice, a change in lifestyle — specifically a need to eat healthier foods and to get some movement in every day. The first step was to visit a diabetes educator at Augusta Health, who explained calories, carbohydrates and sugar.

“What really impressed me,” says Bruce, “is that the educator said this is not a diet. It’s choosing to eat in a healthier way. You don’t have to deny yourself anything. If you stay within the guidelines, you can eat it. In fact, it’s better to have a bit of what you’re craving than to go crazy trying to avoid it.”

“I did say that if you make me give up my coffee, we’re going to have an argument. But coffee is OK, as long as it has no sugar,” adds Marlaine.

They both have a “vice” — hers is sweets and his is carbs — but they changed their daily choices. “We took the junk food out of the house, so our kids are eating healthier, too,” says Marlaine. “Instead we keep fruit, especially citrus. We just don’t eat the way we did before; our palate has changed. We’ve tried a lot of new things and learned there’s more to life than just meat and potatoes. All of a sudden, Bruce is eating vegetables.”

Moving more

In addition to eating healthier, they’ve both made physical activity a part of their lives. He likes to ride the stationary bike, and she likes to walk. It’s been gradual progression. “When I first started walking, I couldn’t make it out of the driveway. Now I can walk four miles, including hills,” Marlaine notes proudly.

And although both always viewed their change in choices as a way to be healthier and not a diet, both have lost weight — significant amounts of weight: Bruce has lost 80 pounds and Marlaine has lost 100 pounds. Also, Marlaine has been able to discontinue all of her asthma medications and is down from three to two diabetes medications. She hopes to drop another soon. Bruce was on four diabetes medications and is now taking only two.

“It has been joyful to treat the Hendersons because we’ve all watched them become much healthier,” says Dr. Collins. “Before their complications, they were not aware of the severity of diabetes and its complications. And while I provided some medications, the motivation to change their lives came from within them. They are a great example of how important a healthy lifestyle is to decreasing complications. They are vested in getting better, and that’s been the difference for them.”

Marlaine and Bruce agree that change does not happen overnight.

“Don’t try to do it all at once,” advises Bruce. “It will take a while. Keep working at it, and you’ll get results. It will make a huge difference in your life.”

If you have concerns about diabetes, talk with your primary care provider or call the Augusta Health Diabetes Education Department at (540) 213-2537, or visit augustahealth.com/diabetes-nutrition-education.